Apollo 11 (2019)

I’ve noticed lately that all the snazzy movie reviews have little two or three word hook lines that end up getting printed as part of the advertising campaign for the film.  I tend to be a little wordy (to say nothing of unknown) for this type of consideration, but I’m going to give it a shot to describe Apollo 11.  You ready?  Here goes:

Breathtaking!

Humbling yet Proud

Jarringly Inspirational

Stunningly Remastered!

A Masterpiece Documentary that Captures what the Collective Will of a People Can Do!

That last one was already more than three words so, since the jig is up, let me go ahead and amend that to say, “a masterpiece documentary that captures what the collective will of a people can do…when they want to.”

The worst part about this movie was that at the end I found myself turning to my husband and asking, “What happened to us?”

I could easily turn this into a soap box moment about the mournfully shameful decision America made to abandon its space program (however temporarily) in favor of relying on corporations and Russians, but I’ll refrain from digressing and keep this about the movie.

Unlike other documentaries, Apollo 11 had no narration. It had no political commentary.  It had no agenda or script.  It had no actors.  But somehow what it did have was heart pounding drama and the ability to create a swelling of pride that by the end compels each viewer to re-examine what they’ve done lately to advance humankind.  I must admit, I felt as though I’ve come up a little short as late.

This movie was simply a collection of news video, forgotten stock footage, mission records and other curated NASA clips of the Apollo 11 moon landing gorgeously and exclusively remastered in brilliant IMAX glory with chest-rattling sound. Need I say more?  If so, I’ll leave it at it’s worth going just to see the footage of the Saturn V on the platform, to say nothing of its launch.

So, I’m a space nerd.  As a science fiction writer I eat, sleep and breath this stuff, but even I have to admit that NASA, on its own, could make a lion jumping through a ring of fire while carrying a swaddled baby in its mouth boring.  I remember I once watched one of the shuttles dock with the International Space Station on “NASA TV” and oh…my…god.  Not since waiting for water to boil has entertainment been so riveting.  But, we forget that NASA’s mission isn’t to make things exciting, it’s to make things safe and achievable, which is kind of the opposite of exciting.  In fact, NASA is failing if it doesn’t make things look routine.  Making stuff entertaining is up to marketing professionals and film makers and, while I fear the former dropped the ball on this one, the latter did more than their part in making an incredible, historically and indisputably factual and…how many times can I use the word breathtaking?…movie.

It was strange because we all know the story.  Apollo 11 goes to the moon.  Armstrong and Aldrin land.  Small step/giant leap, blasé, blasé.  Apollo 11 comes home.  Apollo 13 somehow gets a movie first because people love problems and Tom Hanks.  Enter the space shuttles.  “Ancient Alien” theorists pee their pants because Buzz Aldrin gets misquoted as having said he saw aliens.  America abandons its space program to corporations and Russians…oh wait, there I go again.  But despite knowing every step of this, the movie is still compelling.  Even though one knows nothing goes wrong, one is overwhelmed with the worry of all the millions of things that could have gone wrong at any moment and is then amazed and empowered by the fact that it didn’t.  The success of this mission cannot help but spark pride in what we can accomplish, especially when you consider that the phone you’re reading this on probably has more computing power than all of NASA combined at the time.

Whether it was the sheer, visible mechanics of the Saturn V on the platform or its majesty during launch, the hundreds if not thousands of NASA staff monitoring every conceivable component of the operation, or the awe of the U.S.S. Hornet launching to oversee recovery of the capsule, there’s not one frame of this movie that does not relay the pride and admiration this country had for these unspeakably brave pioneers.  It’s only at the end when there’s a wash of sadness over the realization of the chasm between what we can accomplish when we work together with a common purpose versus what we’ve done since, even with (or especially because of) all our advances.

The Apollo Program was aptly named.  One can’t help watch this movie and, while marveling at the accomplishments of man, imagine our own chariot of fire blazing a path toward a new day.

This is a must see.  I dare you not to want to go to Mars by the end.

Apollo 11

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